Employee Spotlight: Jeff Swenty
What is your discipline/ job title?
My official title is MOCAP Director, and I am also Creative Director. We have a lot of exciting things coming from the MOCAP studio.
What are some games you’ve worked on?
Believe it or not, I have been working in the industry for about 25 years. In that time I’ve worked on a bunch of Tony Hawk Games, a whole bunch of Guitar Hero games, and a lot of Call of Duty titles. I worked on those during my time at Neversoft and Infinity Ward. I also worked at a MOCAP studio that did work for a bunch of different games, a lot of them were for the original Xbox, so yeah, I’ve been in the industry a long time.
Do you have a favorite game you’ve worked on?
All of the Guitar Hero games were super fun because we got to work with different celebrities and get exposed to different and fun things, everyone just had a great time working on it. Call of Duty was also fun, the scale of those games are so big you get awarded opportunities to do new things you might not normally have access to. I’m also pretty excited about the things we’re doing here at Free Range Games .
What’re your top 3 video games of all time? This list is permanent and cannot be changed. No pressure.
I, like everyone, have played hundreds of hours of Skyrim. I also really enjoyed The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It really was a breath of fresh air. My favorite games growing up were all of the LucasArts adventure games. I found out Peter Tsacle, Animation DIrector at Free Range Games, worked on them, so it was really fun to geek out with him about them.
What inspired you to do MOCAP?
Honestly, I just fell into all of this. I got my film degree in Wisconsin and moved to Los Angeles as anyone who gets a film degree does. After a few years trying to work on films I ended up at a company doing animation. I was hired as a runner, but they assigned me to work in motion capture. I had never even heard of it before, but I really lucked out because I learned how to do MOCAP and really enjoyed it. From there I worked at a MOCAP service studio, and then I was hired to start MOCAP facilities at different gaming companies.
Do you notice a difference between working in film vs gaming?
When I was doing MOCAP at a service studio, it was pretty similar. They hand you a project, you handle everything and then hand it back and just say “bye, good luck!” MOCAP in film is pretty similar. What I’ve noticed with gaming, and that I really enjoy, is that it is much more collaborative. I’m able to work with designers and direct shots. There’s a lot more back and forth which allows me to be more creative.
What do you love the most about your job?
The coffee. And collaborating with people to create new things. At Call of Duty I was doing a lot of work conceiving and executing big action pieces, and it was really exciting to come up with everything– work on the write ups, work on design, work with animators, and work with people on stage, and then work together to integrate it into the game. What I like about doing MOCAP at Free Range Games is that since it is a smaller company, we can do things that bigger companies would never dare to do. I’m really excited for the crazy new things we’re going to do here.
What are your favorite types of games to make?
The important thing is to just make new things. We live in a society where you don’t really get to make things a lot because so many things are already generated for you. One of the blessings of working in the game industry is being able to create new things. The most important thing is just making something new with some level of craft to it that you can learn from.
Are games art?
They certainly can be, but most of them aren’t. How you define art relating to a game is especially tricky. You can look at a painting contextually and understand that it is clearly art, it is on display. With games, people will say it is art, but it's really just a well crafted game. If you look at games by Lucas Pope, like Return of the Obra Dinn, I’d be more apt to say those games are artful. It’s taking the medium of what you’re doing in games and doing something you can only do in games.
What do you wish more people knew about the game industry?
It takes a ton of people, and it’s super hard. To do anything in a game is an extreme amount of work and I don’t think people realize that. Someone will boot up a game and think I don’t like this guy’s outfit. Unplayable! Terrible! Trash! The amount of coordination, planning, and execution that goes into everything is just overwhelming.
What is the biggest lesson/ piece of advice you’ve learned in your career or even just in life? Again, no pressure.
It’s a really small world out there, so don't be a dick. Do good work, always try to make new things, and just be a nice person. You want to be able to look back and say “man, look at all this stuff I’ve made.” Worst case scenario is looking back and saying “I’ve barely done anything.” Making stuff is hard and takes time, but it's important and you need to stick with it, the only way to get better is by doing it. So just do it.